Airport expansion acquisition stalled

Faced with the possibility of losing state money for land acquisition at the airport, the Oceana County Board has approved a resolution authorizing acquisition of the property "by eminent domain, if necessary." Airport manager Pete Kelly said the Michigan Aeronautics Commission has set aside $50,000 for the acquisition of 14 acres adjacent to the airport.

But the out-of-state land owners have been difficult to reach, county officials said.

Kelly said acquisition of the parcel would allow extension of the current runway that would accommodate small jet planes.

County administrator Paul Inglis named two businesses that had indicated they would use the airport regularly if it could accommodate their jets.

Inglis said he and other officials have made every effort to communicate with the owners of record, Jerome and Mildred Sehnke of Palatine, Ill. Inglis said all of his communication has been with a son, Joseph Sehnke.

On Thursday the board heard from Margaret Steketee, president of First Row, Inc., a consulting group that specializes in airport property acquisition. Steketee said that such cases are usually settled through negotiation, and only a small percentage result in seizure by eminent domain.

The property has been appraised at $50,000 and the county has placed that amount into an escrow account.

Commissioner Larry Byl suggested that the county offer the Sehnkes a higher price. Steketee said that, by law, the county can only offer to buy at the appraised value. It could, however, agree to a higher price through negotiation.

"What we need is a counter-offer," said Steketee.

Inglis said he has been frustrated by limited and unspecific communication from the Sehnke family.

"At this point," said Inglis, "it's really out of our hands."